The Definition of Love

“God is love.” I John 4:8

“Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10

Love is the atmosphere of heaven. It is the force that connects the universe in one glorious community of peace and harmony. It is the law and character of God. It is the measure by which God sorts people into the “saved” and “lost” baskets for eternity. So it makes sense that the key agenda of God’s vilest foe is helping us redefine love.

“I don’t judge; I just love,” is the postmodern mantra. Love is reinvented variously according to anyone’s whims, using warm, comfortable words like “acceptance” or “grace.” Love’s opposite, of course, is just as easily subjectified into a spectrum of fluid characterizations that could be summarized by my current least favorite, “judgmentalism.” What is sin, the opposite of love, in this context? Naturally, sin is just whatever seems wrong to me at that moment.

So, what is love?

Many people would define love as the passionate longing to connect with another. But this cannot be the biblical definition of love, for it would sanctify lust. Even worse, “God is love” would mean an all-powerful Being angrily incinerates sinners who exasperate Him to the point He no longer desires connection with them.

Others would define love as the commitment to doing right, or doing what is best for the other. This is closer to the biblical definition, for “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). But love defined this way is emotionless, clinical. “God is love” makes God an excellent chess player, a slight smiling playing on His lips as He strategically outwits His intellectual inferior on every move.

Will God’s overwhelming craving for relationship with me lead Him to overlook my disobedience, because He wants so badly to spend eternity with me?

Conversely, was Jesus’ decision to disciple a betrayer a cunning scheme, or the embrace of a piercing agony? When He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was that merely the expression of an intellectual commitment to doing right? Or was it the wrenching apart of the strongest bond in the universe?

If we define love as merely desire to connect, love is easy for the carnal heart. If love is merely commitment to righteousness—doing what is right or best for the other—we casually dismiss sin’s laceration of the heart of God.

Love is the combination of the two—and only in the right order. God’s love is the perfect blend of commitment to righteousness, and overwhelming, nearly unbearable desire for community. The only force powerful enough to restrain this relational God from connecting with those He longs to take in His arms must, therefore, be righteousness.

The principle of righteousness comes first in the definition of love. If we love well, as God does, we must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Love is righteous community—the pursuit of connection only when connection is in harmony with the character of God.

Love thus defined does not always pursue connection. Love will lead the tempted husband on a weekend away to avoid connection with some (other women), while pursuing connection with others (God and his wife). This will be true regardless of his desires. The heart craving relationship will first cultivate attachment to God, and will submit all other relationships to this great underlying connection. It is this love that will wring the heart of God when He finally destroys the wicked, not because He no longer desires community with them, but because they have turned their backs on connection with Him permanently. In justice and mercy, He will respect their wishes and remove them from a torturous eternity in a universe committed unanimously to righteous community.

Love longs for connection, but respects the freedom of the other to choose not to connect. Respecting the choice to disconnect is the greatest heartbreak of the universe. But it is also the glory of the Gospel. It is mute testimony to the love of God, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He had to choose to embrace either sin or pain—to be self-protective in His relationships, or to have His heart torn in half.

He chooses to love us. How will we respond?

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” I John 4:10, 11

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

6 Responses

  1. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer says:

    Excellent! That’s super helpful. I believe love to be a principle versus a feeling, but you’re right it just sounds so clinical after a while. Thanks for helping us out with that.

  2. Donna Couron says:

    Thank you Nicole. You make the issue clear and put out the controversy that we hear so often concerning love, grace, judgement, concerning the issues of the heart and how they are if we are truly to be of Christ.

  3. Barbara Bolton says:

    Thanks for the very insightful thoughts into the heart of God! I believe that love is a choice, since we don’t always “feel” loving. However, we continue to act in love when we remember our past experiences with others or when we feel at empathy with them. It isn’t always easy, but it is what we are called to do. I also believe that oftentimes when we choose to act in a certain way, the feelings will follow. God has the greater ability because He can see us as we would become, if we would only submit. So, He continues to woo us with love. My prayer is that God would help me to see others as HE sees them and to act in love!

  4. Nancy ingham says:

    Love suffers long and is kind seems to cover everything and HE has done this in CHRIST as an example that we can practice following. being forgiven constantly is the blessing we all need and surrendering to HIS will is so necessary and difficult at times but so beneficial and rewarding for HE sometimes gives us difficult things to do but sees us through them in love.

  5. Williammug says:

    Thanks for the forum.Really thank you! Fantastic. Drzewiecki

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